Authorities blockade Chinese town rebelling over land dispute

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Villagers in the Chinese town of Wukan are now in open revolt as, in the fourth month of their land dispute with the government, they expelled all Communist Party officials. Last Sunday they also repelled an attempt by around a thousand police to retake the town using tear gas and water cannons.

Logo of Country Garden (Holdings) Ltd., who bought Wukan land in an allegedly illegal sale by local officials.

Negotiations were previously ongoing over the land dispute with villagers claiming farmland was taken, and sold to private developers Country Garden, with no compensation provided to locals. However, recent remarks over the legality of the initial protests in September by a county-level spokesperson prompted a return to street protests last week in the Guangdong province town.

Mass-protests on economic grounds are frequent in China. An average of around 15,000 protests occur each month. Local officials are frequently accused of requisitioning land, using police and thugs to intimidate rural farmers and complete — often illegal — evictions. Following this, and as seems the case in Wukan, the land is sold on to local developers and entrepreneurs with no compensation paid to the evicted.

When rioting began this September in Wukan, State news agency Xinhua said that eleven investigations into forced evictions which had led to violent protests were underway. A total of 31 local officials were facing potential criminal charges, with the reported cases of land grabs a mix of "illegal" and "badly executed" evictions. In at least one case, a forced eviction resulted in the death of a 48-year-old woman.

Following on from the days of rioting over the land-grab in September, and the police's ruthless retaking of the town of 20,000, Lufeng county government officials — in an exceptional move — commenced negotiations with representatives chosen by the villagers themselves. Until, that is, last week after a local official asserted the town's chosen negotiators were helping "overseas forces that want to sow divisions between the government and villagers." This prompted a resumption of protesting — including a sit-in by the villagers.

Plain-clothes police mounted an operation against the villagers last Friday, capturing five of the town's thirteen chosen representative–negotiators. Amongst those seized was 42-year-old Xue Jinbo, who died in custody on Sunday. Villagers, including Xue's 24-year-old son-in-law, claim he was tortured and that, when visiting the funeral home where the body is being held, his corpse was bloody and bruised, and his thumbs broken. Xinhua disputes these claims, asserting the cause of death was a heart attack; and, that this occurred following Xue confessing to criminal involvement with the September rioting.

News of the uprising in Wukan is subject to censorship in China media — including through online censorship of micro-blogging sites. The BBC reports Sina Weibo, the Chinese hybrid–equivalent of Twitter and Facebook, returns the message: "According to relevant law, regulations and policies, search results for Wukan cannot be displayed" when a search for the town's name is made. It is being suggested that Chinese web users have switched to using the tag "WK", which can be taken as an abbreviation of either "Wukan" or "What is going on?" And, at-present the English-language website for Xinhua returns no search results for "Wukan", and none that are relevant to the revolt when searching for the province name, "Guangdong".

Now under-siege from police, food and water are not being allowed into the town by Communist authorities, and residents are being prevented from leaving. Some town residents reportedly say they are able to obtain supplies from neighbouring villages, but it has also been reported Wukan only has enough supplies to last about ten days.


This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.
This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.